Is Antelope Canyon Really Worth Visiting?

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Even if you didn't realize it at the time, chances are you've seen a photo of Upper Antelope Canyon.

It's a narrow slot canyon located in northern Arizona known for is smooth and curvy orange walls and the light beams that shine down between them at certain times of year.

It's also become an incredibly popular tourist attraction.

Upper Antelope Canyon

Upper Antelope Canyon

I first visited Antelope Canyon on a scorching day in August in 2011. My sister and I were mesmerized by the slot canyon, and barely even noticed the abundance of people inside it with us. It was a magical place carved out by Mother Nature, and I came home singing its praises.

Upper Antelope Canyon
My sister and I in 2011

The second time I visited was almost 5 years later, during a road trip through the American Southwest that Elliot and I did in April 2016.

Five years is a pretty long time, and in that time I've changed a bit both as a person and a traveler. I've been to dozens of new countries, have honed in on my ideal travel style, and have turned my blog into a business. It's only natural that along the way I've begun to approach touristy spots a little differently, too.

Here's the thing about tourist attractions: usually they are popular for a good reason. I never skip them even when I know I'm likely to be met by large crowds or long lines because I always like to come to my own conclusions about a place.

But I definitely went to Antelope Canyon the second time around with a more critical eye.

Upper Antelope Canyon

It's kind of like Stonehenge in a way – the photos of it look really cool and probably make you want to visit. But is it really worth it to go?

Let's look at the good and bad of a visit to Antelope Canyon:

The bad

It's crowded

Upper Antelope Canyon in Arizona
The scene outside the canyon in 2011

Antelope Canyon has become a hugely popular attraction in the Southwest, especially from April to October when you can see the light beams shine down into the upper part of the canyon. And, even though the amount of people going into the canyon each day is regulated by the fact that you have to visit on a guided tour, the number of people visiting each day has certainly risen in recent years. The size of the canyon, however, has not changed, meaning you can often find yourself elbow-to-elbow with others.

Upper Antelope Canyon
The canyon also gets super narrow in parts – which you notice 10x more with lots of people inside.

Tours sell out

These canyon tours also sell out quickly. Elliot and I hoped to do a longer, photography-based tour this time around, but found that every space with every company was booked weeks in advance of our visit – and we weren't even going in the heart of high season! Midday tours also sell out fast, and we barely got ourselves on one in time. (Midday tours are the most popular because you can only see the light beams between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. on most days.) This is not the type of tour that you could just rock up to on the day you want to go and expect to get a spot at a prime time of day.

It's not cheap

Tours of Upper Antelope Canyon are not really cheap, either. Prices range from $40-$60 per person for a standard tour, with midday tours being towards the more expensive end. These standard tours include transport from downtown Page, a Navajo park fee, and an hour-long guided tour of the slot canyon. Photography-focused tours (which allow you to bring a tripod and give you two hours inside the canyon) cost $80-$90 per person.

Upper Antelope Canyon

You might feel rushed

I don't know how it is on the photography tours, but I know that things can feel rushed on the standard tours of Antelope Canyon. This is because everything is on a timer, and they don't want stragglers throwing things off. This unfortunately means that if the light beams don't show up until the last 10 minutes of your tour, you won't get any extra time to see/photograph them.

The good

THESE VIEWS.

Upper Antelope Canyon

Upper Antelope Canyon
Magical, magical light beams

It's pretty well-organized

Considering the amount of people that they shuttle through the canyon each day, things actually run pretty smoothly. You move slowly through the canyon one way, stopping frequently for your guide to point out cool rock formations or help you take photos. Then you move back through much more quickly on the way out (so quickly that you're not supposed to stop at all – though our group did stop briefly to see some light beams).

Upper Antelope Canyon
Can you see the bear?

Photographers get priority

If you do manage to book a longer photography tour, you get priority when it comes to the best spots to take photos. Guides will try to shoo people out of your shots, and people generally respect the fact that you've paid a bit more in hopes of getting better photos in the canyon.

The verdict

So what's my conclusion? Well, I can say that there was definitely a difference between my very first tour of Upper Antelope Canyon and my second. In the last 5 years, the slot canyon has become MUCH more popular, and I definitely felt more rushed the second time around.

Upper Antelope Canyon

Upper Antelope Canyon is not the only slot canyon near Page. You can visit Lower Antelope Canyon, for example, which is just across the road. It's much easier to visit (you can more or less just show up and hop on a tour), and entry is considerably cheaper.

BUT, Upper Antelope Canyon is the only place where you have a chance of seeing those iconic light beams.

Upper Antelope Canyon
You won't see this in Lower Antelope Canyon

Of course, since you have to book tours in advance, there's no guarantee of clear, sunny skies to allow for those light beams to shine down between the canyon walls… But the chances of seeing them are pretty good during the summer months.

Upper Antelope Canyon
Though, the canyon still looks cool even without the beams

So would I recommend going?

To be honest, I think I still would. Upper Antelope Canyon is so unique and so incredible that I think it's possible to look past the crowds and still be able to appreciate the beauty of the place.

Upper Antelope Canyon

However, if you don't like crowds and aren't too concerned about seeing those light beams, then I would probably suggest skipping this one.

IF YOU GO…

Elliot and I booked a 10:30 a.m. tour with Chief Tsosie's Antelope Slot Canyon Tours for $58 each. Most of the companies in Page give similar tours (and also have similar names), so I don't know that it really matters all that much who you go with. Just be sure to book your tour online ahead of time if you plan to visit during peak season (which starts as early as April each year). Also note that, unless you book a dedicated photography tour, you are not permitted to bring a tripod into Upper Antelope Canyon.

If you're more interested in Lower Antelope Canyon, check out Ken's Tours.

So what do you think? Would you go, or would you skip this one?

 

Is Antelope Canyon worth visiting?

 

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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33 Comments on “Is Antelope Canyon Really Worth Visiting?

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  1. it’s spectacular, so of course people want to see it and it’s crowded:)

      I totally understand why it’s become so popular! At some point, though, I think they’re going to have to further regulate how many people can go in at once – it was SO crowded this second time around.

    We visited this year and we totally agree with you: we would go no matter how crowded it is! It’s such a unique and breathtaking place! And if you don’t care that much about perfect shots, the crowd is less annoying. 😀

      I actually got some great shots anyway, despite the crowds! I thought the guides were pretty good about making sure that you have the chance for at least a handful of photos without other people in them.

        Guess it’s much easier on a photography tour. Ours was a regular tour, but we still enjoyed it so much and we even have a few good shots, haha. It just seemed sooo short! But double the wouldn’t have been enough either. 🙂

          We just went on the regular tour, too (all the photo tours were sold out!). But yeah, an hour goes by so fast!

    I know I still wanna visit, but I always get nervous about booking weather-based tours in advance. Knowing my luck, it’ll be like that time in Iceland when I couldn’t see the northern lights (twice!) because of cloud coverage, hahaha.

    Great photos as always, Amanda!

      Yeah that’s definitely always a concern! Though clear skies are pretty common in this part of the U.S. in the summer.

    I’ve never heard of Antelope Canyon before but it looks beautiful!

      It’s certainly not ugly! And there are lots of cool little spots like this in the Southwest – it’s really incredible!

    I would definitely go! The lights and colours of the canyon look absolutely mesmerizing! Considering you weren’t on a photography tour you did really well with your photos: they look stunning!

      Thanks, Dominique! A good lens that can handle low-light without a tripod really makes all the difference! 🙂

      And yes, the colors inside are just amazing! So many different shades of orange.

    I went on a tour with Chief Tsosie’s group as well! But I took the Cathedral Canyon tour, not the Antelope Canyon one. I mistakenly thought the two were the same for some reason. Whoops. But this is an excuse for me to go back to Page and see the famous sight. They did mention during the tour that the number of tourists has increased considerably in the past few years, and especially the number of Chinese tourists. I was there last month and pretty much every tourist was Chinese! It was surprising.

    Even though it will probably be very crowded, I think everyone should go see it last once. Opportunities like this can’t be missed. 🙂

      Yes, there are definitely more groups from places like China in the Southwest than I’ve ever seen before – I guess word is getting out about how awesome this part of America is!

    Such a beautiful place, I really want to get over to Page someday soon!! Is the lower canyon similar to the upper canyon except for the light beams? If they’re significantly different I would like to see both but if they’re quite similar then I’d probably just pick one of them to see.

      They are a bit different from what I’ve read, but not significantly so. The biggest different is the colors – the Lower canyon has more purples, where Upper has a lot more oranges.

    This honestly looks like a beautiful place and it has been on my bucket list for a while now. Good to know about the other spot across the road – will definitely have to consider it!

      You could, of course, always just go to both! 😉 But yes, if you it’s a gorgeous place and is worth visiting, especially if it’s on your bucket list!

    I’ve been in the off-season, November, when it’s much cooler and less crowded. However, you don’t get the light streams in the off season.

      Yes it’s definitely a trade-off!

    What a gorgeous place! It has been on my bucket list for a while, but I’ve yet to see it. Hopefully, I get to go when the crowds are a little lower. I think I’d like to go to both spots!

      Definitely go in the off-season then if you want to avoid the large crowds! I definitely think it’s worth it, light beams or no. (Though the light beams sure are gorgeous.)

    Darn – now I wish we had stopped there on our big road trip in 2008; I’m not a fan of crowds, especially when trying to get that perfect shot. I do hope to head this way next year, maybe visit in the winter, although it sounds like I’ll miss the light beams in that case…

    Anyway, nice photos!

      Yeah, in the winter you wouldn’t have the crowds to deal with, but you also wouldn’t see the light beams – trade-off, I guess! I think it’s still worth a visit, though, especially if you haven’t visited many slot canyons before!

    I feel equally torn about Antelope Canyon! When I was there four years ago, the guides got really aggressive protecting their photographers during the light beams, which led to a fight and a Navajo lawsuit. My family felt really out-of-place without a DSLR. I would recommend Lower Antelope or another slot canyon just on the off-chance it’s less insane, though Upper was certainly an experience!

      I don’t remember it being quite so crowded when I was there the first time (in 2011), but the guides on my second trip were very respectful. We did get ushered through on the way back fairly quickly, though, and didn’t get to admire the light beams nearly as much as I would have liked to! I would probably suggest going to Antelope Canyon, but then ALSO visiting another less-crowded slot canyon, too.

    Amanda:

    Nice blog. You should be aware that Lower Antelope Canyon most definitely has amazing light beams. The entry fee is less because you drive yourself to the entrance–you don’t need transport to and from Page in the back of a truck. And it’s less crowded mostly because it’s less accessible. There are steep metal ladders at either end, and some people are put off by that. It’s a longer stretch of canyon, very narrow, but as long as you hit the right time of day, there are plenty of light beams, and its easy to get on the photography tour. I have a post on my own blog: “Conjuring a Beam of Light in Antelope Canyon”, all photos taken in Lower Antelope.

      That’s great to know, Rick! As far as I knew, the light beams were only regular in the Upper canyon – I’ll definitely have to check out Lower next time, too!

    […] As to travel, I really enjoyed Nomadic Matt’s 9 Ways to Become a Successful Blogger and the details A Dangerous Business shares about the reality of Antelope Canyon. […]

    I have panic disorder, but would love love to see this do they have any accommodations with people with disabilities?

      Since I’ll admit to not knowing much about panic disorder, I can’t say for sure. But I will say that the way the tour is run is not the best if you are claustrophobic at all! The ride out there is in a bumpy truck, and the place is usually PACKED with people. And I don’t think they do private tours at all – but you could always call a couple of the tour companies there to ask questions about your specific needs.

    It looks like lower antelope canyon is no longer offering photography tours due to “increased crowds” …. sorry to read this; thought it might be a way to see the canyon(s) with the crowds of the Upper Antelope. Thank you for your blog 🙂

      Ah that’s too bad! It has gotten really popular in the last few years – I know they’re still doing photo tours at Upper Antelope Canyon, though.

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